DS9

I just finished watching the entire series of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  It was wonderful.  I’ve been a Trek fan as long as I can remember.  My mom and I would watch reruns of TOS when I was little.  I watched TNG, DS9, Voyager, and even Enterprise while they aired.  I’ve seen all of the movies.  A few months ago, after talking to a friend, I decided to re-watch DS9 in its entirety.  This isn’t an essay or a review or anything formal.  I just wanted to write down the random thoughts I’m having now that I finished.

Deep Space Nine is unquestionably my favorite Trek.

The cast is amazing, even Nog and Jake.  You worry a little when children are going to be regulars or semi-regulars, but in this case there was no need.  Not only did everyone fully inhabit their characters, but they had great chemistry with each other.  I do feel like Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko and Armin Shimmermin as Quark deserve special credit.

Avery Brooks’ voice makes me jealous.

The relationship between Ben and Jake Sisko is perfect.

No other TV show, except maybe The Simpsons, has such a rich cast of supporting characters.  Garak, Dukat, Weyoun, Zek, Brunt, Leeta, Rom, and Morn are real characters.  And so are the female changeling, Vic Fontaine, Kai Winn, Zyal, and Dumar.  Most shows don’t manage to flesh out their main characters as well as DS9 fleshed out its background characters.

The guest stars are pretty great, too.  My personal favorite was Iggy Pop.  I remember when I was originally watching the show and I saw in the opening that Iggy Pop was a special guest star, I spent the first 40 minutes of the show watching every alien that passed through Quark’s to see if I could recognize him.  And then, there he was, as a Vorta, and perfectly recognizable.  Brilliant.  They also had Wallace Shawn as Zek.  That’s a Princess Bride connection.  Gabrielle Union played a Klingon once.  They took one of the prettiest women in Hollywood (although she was awfully young at the time) and put forehead ridges on her.

DS9 got social commentary way better than any of the other Treks.  At no point did it feel like they were saying, “Hey, look everyone, we cast a black man as the commanding officer!”  Avery Brooks simply was Benjamin Sisko, commanding officer of Deep Space Nine.  The only times the series every went into the showy, look we’re making a point, mode was the Ferengi episodes.  And, let’s face it, you just can’t be subtle when dealing with Ferengis.  The fact that the social commentary wasn’t so obvious made it that much more powerful.

Trials and Tribble-ations is one of my favorite hours of television.  The bit about the crew not recognizing the Klingons and Worf refusing to explain was hilarious.

The theme music is really pretty good.  I have to admit I was disappointed 20 years ago when I first heard it.  I had been used to TOS and TNG which both had rousing, exciting theme music.  They both said, “We’re going on an adventure!”  DS9’s music is slower, more stately, and more ambiguous.  The trumpet fanfare is certainly heroic, but with a sense of melancholy.

When I first watched the show, Sisko’s last scene with Kassidy didn’t leave the same impression on me.  I used to think it was a Frodo and Gandalf getting into the boat kind of scene.  But this time, I really feel like Sisko will be back.  That it is a time of sadness, but he will be reunited with Jake and Kassidy.  When I first watched, I was closer to Jake’s age than anyone else on the show.  Now, I’m closer to the Captain’s age.  It’s a different way of watching.

 

Rain

You know how people say that peoples from the arctic have fifty words for snow? They say it because it’s supposed to seem impressive, but it never struck me as impressive. And apparently it’s not true. That’s too bad. While not impressed, I like the flexibility of language, and it saddens me that arctic peoples don’t have the sort of variety in their languages that we have in ours. To lend support to my position, here are fifty words (or phrases) for rain. While not impressive, it’s a fun list. If you know any that I missed, please leave a comment.

 

Rain, showers, drizzle, downpour, sprinkle, sun shower, monsoon, typhoon, thunderstorm, pouring, raining cats and dogs, raining buckets, god’s tears, angels crying, precipitation, hurricane, storm, cloudburst, deluge, skies opened up, drips, drops, gully washer, trash mover, toad strangler, heavy mist, sky is crying, spit, spittle, biblical rain, heavy dew, liquid sunshine, rainstorm, volley, stream, drencher, fall, mist, precip, rainfall, raindrops, sheets, window washer, nature’s car wash, thundershower, gusher, mizzle, squall, rainsquall, inundation.

Why Does Exile on Main Street Best Epitomize Rock and Roll?

I was asked the question, “Why does the album Exile on Main Street best epitomize rock and roll?” My first instinct was to question the question. Does it best epitomize rock and roll? The only way to know is to figure out what rock and roll is. Once we know that, we can analyze Exile and determine how well it epitomizes rock and roll.

Rock and roll has many definitions. There are some things they all agree about, though. For example, it started in the 50s in America. It became the pop music of the 50’s and 60’s. There are also things that people disagree about. Some say that Rocket 88 was the first rock song. That seems absurd to me. Rocket 88 was a mediocre version of what everyone else was doing at the time. Others say that Rock Around the Clock was the first rock song. That’s a little more acceptable, since it was thought of as Rock and Roll at the time. I’d vote for Maybellene. It’s country, blues, and R&B rolled into one. The subject matter appeals to kids. It was a hit on black and white charts. Johnny B. Goode is the perfect Rock & Roll song, but Maybellene was the first.

So, what does that tell us? Basically that Rock and Roll is an amalgam. These songs have very little in common. The thing that they do share is that they mix different styles. That, more than anything else, is what defines rock and roll. Rock Around the Clock has elements of swing and R&B and jazz, but it’s played by a country band. Maybellene is based on an old country song, but played by a blues band.

Another thing they have in common is the subject matter. Before rock and roll, music was for adults. Singers sang about big legged women and strange fruit. Rock and roll started singing about school days and surfin’ safaris.  This did change as rock matured (if matured is the right word).  The sex, drugs and rock and roll cliché began to take hold.  But it was still a very adolescent view of the world.  Then, socially conscious lyrics started to emerge.  This was a combination of the times, with civil rights and Viet Nam dominating the headlines, and the addition of folk* music to the rock and roll musical combination.

So where does that leave us?  Rock and roll isn’t really a musical style per se.  Rather it is kind of a catch all for any music that doesn’t quite fit into a category.  If it’s bluesy, but not really blues, it’s probably rock and roll.  If it’s jazzy, but not really jazz, it’s probably rock and roll.  If it’s folky. . . I think you get the idea.  And it certainly helps if it is directed towards kids and young adults.

Now, when looking for an album that epitomizes rock and roll, I think we need to look at the late sixties and early seventies.  Before that, rock was a singles music.  Elvis, Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Buddy Holly were really singles artists.  Albums didn’t become important until the LP record was invented and bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Stones started experimenting with the longer forms.  That puts us in the mid-sixties at the earliest.  And by the mid-seventies, rock became very fragmented.  It’s not that it died, there are still plenty of rock bands around.  However, it moved off to the side to make room for disco, hip hop, and electronic music.  And it was no longer enough to be a rock and roll band.  You had to be Prog Rock or Punk Rock or Southern Rock or or or.

Given all of that, the three albums that jump immediately to mind are Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eat a Peach, and Exile On Main Street**. There are certainly other options, but those jump out. A lot of people may be surprised by the lack of Beatles, Zep, Dylan, and others. The reason for these three rather than any of those others is that the Beatles and Dylan are the Beatles and Dylan. As great as they can be, when I listen to them, I hear the Beatles and Dylan, not rock and roll. Led Zeppelin, quite frankly, is almost as famous for stealing as they are for playing. And personally, I think a mix tape featuring all of the originals would make for more satisfying listening.

Traffic made some pretty amazing albums, but I don’t think they’re famous enough to best exemplify rock and roll. Born to Run could be argued, but isn’t Bruce trying to make a Stones record with that one?  Bowie is too focused on the theatrics.  I think I’ll just stick to those three.  They fall in the right era, they are about the music, they are well played, and they are cohesive albums***.

The first one I will drop from my three finalists is Layla and Other Assorted Love songs.  It is my favorite of the three albums.  The band plays at an incredibly high level throughout.  The songs are well written and the choices for covers fit beautifully.  The reason I’m dropping it is that it doesn’t have the breadth of the other two.  It is firmly rooted in blues.  While blues is the most important influence on rock and roll, an album that ignores the other influences just can’t be considered rock’s epitome.

Eat a Peach is the next to go, but this one is hard for me.  It has blues, country, jazz, and folk.  It is extremely well played.  The worst thing I can say about the album is that the drum solo in Mountain Jam isn’t really to my taste.  I would recommend this album to anyone.

Ultimately, the reason I’m going with Exile on Main Street is that it just has more.  It has blues, country, jazz, and folk.  But, it also has gospel, Caribbean/Latin, boogie woogie, and proto punk.  It is also well played, although not at the same level as the other two.  Lyrically, almost every song is about either sex, drugs, or rock and roll.  Many of them are about all three at the same time.  The one exception is “Sweet Black Angel”, which is about Angela Davis, and covers the socially conscious ground.  If you listen to Exile on Main Street, you will hear everything that came before rock and many of the developments that came later.  As an epitome, you can’t ask for much more than that.

 

 

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* On a completely unrelated note, I hate the term folk music as a reference to what you hear in coffee shops with acoustic guitars, banjos, etc.  Virtually all music that wasn’t specifically written for the concert hall is folk music.  Hip hop is folk music.  Polkas are folk music.  Country is folk music.  And rock and roll is folk music.

** Exile is not my favorite Stones album.  For enjoyment, I’d put it on a level with Voodoo Lounge.  I prefer Some Girls, Let It Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, and some days Aftermath and Between the Buttons.  But none of those make the same kind of, “This is the ultimate Rock and Roll record,” statement that Exile does.

*** I have always thought it odd that the reason they were originally called albums is because they were collections of individual songs, like photo albums.  But now, album oriented music is a label used to separate it from singles oriented music.